Famine in the Land

This week we read of the dreams of Pharaoh, king of Egypt. When all the king's men and all the king's soothsayers fail in their attempts at dream analysis, the Chief Butler remembers Joseph and how the Hebrew prisoner correctly interpreted his own dreams when they were together in jail. In a flash, young Joseph is hauled out of the dungeon and finds himself standing before the mighty monarch. Pharaoh repeats his two dreams — seven fat cows being devoured by seven lean cows, and seven healthy ears of grain being swallowed by seven withered ears.

Joseph interprets the dreams to Pharaoh's satisfaction. Seven years of plenty will be followed by seven years of famine. His explanation rings true for the king. But Joseph doesn't stop at the interpretation. He goes on to offer some seemingly unsolicited advice to the mighty ruler of the mightiest superpower of the time. "And now Pharaoh should select a person who is understanding and wise, and appoint him over Egypt," continues young Joseph. this man oversee the economic plan for the country — to store grain during the seven good years of plenty that are coming in order to sustain the people during the next seven lean years.

Brilliant. But who asked him for any advice? And where does this young man, who a moment ago was languishing in prison, get the temerity to offer eitzos — unsolicited advice — to none other than the king himself? I know Jews are renowned for their chutzpah, but still! You gave your interpretation, fine and well; but did anybody ask you for solutions?

The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that the advice was actually part and parcel of the interpretation. Why were there two dreams with essentially the same message? Why were the thin cows standing next to the fat cows before they swallowed them? Moreover, why did Pharaoh wake up after the first dream, go back to sleep, and only then experience the second dream? According to Joseph all of this was highly pertinent. The dream was repeated because it will happen soon and therefore no time is to be wasted in preparing for the famine. The two sets of cows stood side by side to indicate that there is an important connection between them — that the good years can, in effect, co-exist with the lean years, if their surplus of grain is preserved to sustain the people during the famine. And Pharaoh woke up in between the two dreams because G‑d was saying to him, "Wake up before it is too late to save your people!" In other words, the solution was implicit in the dreams. Thus, if Joseph hadn't shared extended his advice to Pharaoh, he would have been derelict in his duty by omitting crucial sections of the dreams' meaning. Offering the advice was not chutzpah at all. Withholding it would have been a job half done.

Pharaoh is so impressed with this explanation that he immediately appoints Joseph as viceroy of Egypt, and the rest, of course, is history.

Long ago the Prophet Amos said,

Behold, days are coming, says the L-rd, when I will send a famine in the land; not a famine for bread, nor a thirst for water, but for hearing the words of the L-rd. And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of G‑d and they shall not find it. In that day shall the fair virgins and the young men faint from thirst.

Is this not a prophecy of our own day and age? Are we not witnessing a hunger for truth and authenticity in a corrupt and plastic world? Do our own young people from America and even Israel not go wandering across the far corners of the earth desperately seeking spirituality and some deeper meaning to their lives? And what is our response when many of our youngest and brightest get lost in the East? Do we appreciate the tragedy when they despair of finding fulfillment in the faith of their fathers? Do we mimic the Pharaoh and turn over on the other side and go back to sleep even when we seem to be getting heavenly signals and messages that something momentous is about? Or do we seek out the guidance of a "wise and understanding man" who can guide our young people towards the path of what, for them, must be the only truth, the Torah?

In the end, Pharaoh took Joseph's advice, acted responsibly, and spared his nation the famine that engulfed the world. Will we, today, feed our spiritually starved souls and give them the nourishment they crave? Many among us are trying to do just that. I pray we will all join in.